Tornado Watch (2014 Boston Celtics Draft): Kevin Love trade, Joel Embiid, Noah Vonleh, Aaron Gordon and Marcus Smart

The Boston Celtics trade rumors are a constant swirl of dust and debris, like something you’d see on the horizon if you lived in the plains and the month happens to be May or June. An F1 tornado has winds between 73-112 mph. F2 113-157 mph. There are F3′s and F4′s and F5 tornadoes, but you get the idea. Anything that moves faster than a Lamborghini on a freeway, and it all would sound the same, although the amount of damage clearly isn’t.

The Boston Celtics tornado rumors started before the Celtics-Nets trade occurred, continued with the Doc Rivers to the Clippers saga, and then went through numerous incantations with Rajon Rondo over the last 12 months. Question: has an elite point guard ever been the subject of more trade rumors (while in his prime) than Rondo? I’m going to say “no,” and I’d pretty much guarantee that. Is Rondo perfect? No. Even Chris Paul isn’t perfect. These playoffs gave more evidence of the dramatic peaks and valleys of dominant point guards and how teams support or don’t support those elite PGs.

From the Warriors and their exasperating lack of balance, to the Clippers and their Jekyll and Hyde offense (either transition beauty of ball-dominant half-court sets with Paul looking desperately for another pick), to the Wizards (make John Wall shoot), to the Heat and whatever happened to Mario Chalmers’ confidence, to the Thunder and the transcendent play of Russell Westbrook (followed by bouts of head-down to-the-basket stubbornness), to the Spurs and the play-making of all their non-point guards. Rondo’s greatest skill may be his court vision, but he has a few rare attributes for such a small man: he rebounds incredibly well, and he doesn’t have to shoot to help his team win. The tired remarks on Rondo’s selfishness are overblown. Rondo’s desire to find synergy with his new teammates and coach Brad Stevens appear genuine. That’s all we have to go on.

Fast-forward from the tornado warnings and swirls of debris and the ether of internet dust, and we have the 2014 NBA Draft, a draft in which the Celtics must fill-in the obvious gaps in order to speed up the difficult rebuilding process.

All the Possibilities: Love-ly, Smart, etc. 

One way to fill-in the gaps is trade for Kevin Love. Celtics fans (myself included, to some degree) are drooling over the Rondo-Love possibilities. Love’s shooting complements Rondo’s penetrating abilities and passing. The offensive ineptitude of the 2013-14 season would seemingly be solves. (Let’s not worry about the lack of a shot-blocker or paint-defense). However, the Love tornado has moved westward from New England and seems to be hovering in the Rocky Mountains, headed toward either Denver or the Bay Area, where Stephen Curry dreams of the ideal sweet-shooting pick-and-roll partner.

Who the hell knows what is real and what isn’t. All I can do is prepare for the disappointment that Love will not become a Celtic.

With the 6th pick, the Boston Celtics select…

Which brings us to the 6th and 17th picks in the NBA Draft. If the Celtics don’t trade for Love, they’ll presumably be making the picks for themselves, still needing to fill in those gaps (a tall, defensive-minded, athletic big man and a scorer from the wing).

Joel Embiid, the Cameroonian 20 year-old, was the likely number one overall pick before a back injury curtailed his hype. A recently revealed foot fracture is causing alarm bells to go off in various NBA front offices. It has been reported that Embiid will miss 4-to-6 months while recovering. The question: will the injuries linger or will they heal and the Embiid hype machine’s noise will return to arena-rock levels in February?

While Greg Oden is the most recent uber-talented 7-footer to cause nightmares and depression, mainly in Portland until this past season, the proverbial ceiling on Embiid is non-existent, which makes those lottery teams anxious. What if we DON’T pick him and he becomes Hakeem Olajuwon, part two? What if we DO pick him and he becomes Greg Oden, part two?

The Celtics need a defensive-minded player with length. The NBA is gradually transitioning away from the old 5-position designations that used to create somewhat arbitrary divisions on the court. Within two years, we’ll see more teams emulating the Heat. We already see teams like Atlanta, who (because of Horford’s injury) set records for three-point attempts in the first round of the playoffs. However, interior defense and the threat of a shot-blocker are what can separate good teams from great teams. Consider a team like Phoenix. Wildly entertaining and incredibly balanced scoring, with three-point threats all over the court (especially with Channing Frye at center). However, there was very little chance that Phoenix could have won in the half-court, which has almost always been the tempo of the playoffs. Unless Phoenix had been able to continue to create turnovers against the best competition (unlikely), there offense would have stalled. Look at the Washington Wizards for evidence. The Wizards had some defensive presence in Gortat and Nene, but those guys aren’t that intimidating. They are helpful, but not dominant in the paint. The Pacers had just enough to outlast the Wizards, thanks in part to the brief resurrection of Hibbert’s post-game and West’s elbow shooting.

If Embiid is gone, what about Vonleh and Gordon?

If Embiid is gone at number six, most of the predicted mock drafts have had Aaron Gordon as the Celtics pick (though Draft Express now has Gordon slipping all the way to #10 Philly). Gordon is certainly defensive-minded and athletic. The uncertainty with him is his shot (40+ percent free-throw shooting last year) and his up-and-down scoring ability.

In a nutshell, Gordon is supposed to be the uber-athletic and springy guy who will defend anyone between 6’5″ and 6’10″ (Marion, Kawhi). Vonleh is a huge unknown, but has shown a shooting touch (in a miniscule sample size at Indiana), and has ridiculous measurements (7’4″ wingspan) which are drawing Serge Ibaka comparisons. Most mocks have Utah taking Vonleh at #5.

Vonleh, whose parents came to Haverhill, Massachusetts from Liberia, is one of the youngest prospects in the draft–turning 19 in August. Vonleh’s prime may start in 2019. Teams are drafting players with the knowledge that they may extend their rookie contracts. Those second contracts are usually the best non-rookie contracts in the league, because teams that drafted the player have no competition during that extension period. If Embiid or Vonleh hit their prime two years later than Gordon does, their second contracts would likely be a better value (as the extension would come earlier than their prime years). On the flipside, if the Celtics are thinking of there best shot as built around Rondo, Gordon might make more sense. If Gordon finds a solid jumper, he could potentially become that Shawn Marion-type of hybrid forward as early as 2016, whereas it will likely take a bit longer for Embiid or Vonleh to develop.

You probably have one question for me, if you’re following the mock drafts:

So…what do the Celtics do if both Embiid and Vonleh are off the board?

Marcus Smart, the dynamic and pesky point guard from Oklahoma State seems likely. The questions about Rondo would then reach deafening levels–would the Celtics ship out Rondo and let Smart take over immediately? Would they try to play a Suns-style two-point guard approach? The athleticism would be off the charts, but neither is a reliable shooter.

What does all of this mean?

I have no idea.

Which is why it’s easier for everyone to just shout, “KEVIN LOVE! KEVIN LOVE! KEVIN LOVE!”

Thursday night we’ll finally have an answer to the first question: What is the direction of this team? Where are the tornadoes? And how far off are they?

Oh yes, and with pick number 17, the Celtics will take T.J. Warren (off-balance scoring extraordinaire) or James Young (silky lefty with the ability to get into the lane) or Rodney Hood (shooter). We can assume that the 17th pick will be a scorer, and that he’ll be a wingman. That’s about it.

***

Read this Sporting News article on Vonleh’s background and recruiting process to get a better idea of why everyone loves him:

http://www.sportingnews.com/ncaa-basketball/story/2012-07-12/noah-vonleh-kentucky-louisville-indiana-unc-uconn

 

 

 

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The Winners: Rafal Milach’s Photography from Belarus

Photo by Rafal Milach/INSTITUTE

Elena, the finest milkmaid of the Slutsk region. From a book of photographs by Rafal Milach, on winners of strange contests in Belarus. Photo by Rafal Milach/INSTITUTE

 

I have not seen Rafal Milach’s book of photography, The Winners. I have not been to Belarus. I know little about the country, other than it is in Eastern Europe. After reading a bit about this collection and seeing some of these photos, I feel compelled to link to it. Maybe it’s because I have ancestors from Eastern Europe. Maybe it’s because the awkward hilarity of the stone-faced expressions of various mundane contest winners. (There is a political purpose behind the choice). Maybe it’s because Rafal Milach has an eye for brutal reality.

It’s also something to consider. Our glimpse into Eastern European culture is often stilted or strange, in part because it is so unfamiliar to many Americans. Everything is Illuminated. Borat. The Sochi Olympics in caricature. The expressions don’t feel painted on, not Wes Anderson-style. Real vs. caricature. However, you’d be a fool to imagine all citizens of Belarus as stoic humorless robots. How did they survive for all of those frigid winters? Vodka and laughter. You do what you have to do. There are strong strains of that within both the Eastern European side (mom) and West Virginia settlers side (dad) in my family. You do what you have to do. You become the best damn milkmaid in Slutsk.

I haven’t yet seen Grand Budapest Hotel (I might not ever) but I have no doubt Wes Anderson’s whimsical jaunt into Hungary will contain few seeds of truth (not that he’s aiming for truth). Instead, a visual parallel to these photos might be the isolated Finnish landscapes and no-nonsense expressions of the characters in the films of Aki Kaurismaki. Side note: watch Kitchen Stories (the entire film is on Youtube). Either way, these are photographs that contain something powerful.

Here’s what Jordan Teicher of Slate‘s photo blog had to say:

Before Polish photographer Rafal Milach visited Belarus in 2011, he’d intended to do a personal project exploring the history of his family, which has roots in the Eastern European country. When he arrived there, however, he was immediately struck by a strange feeling that caused him to switch gears. “I was so overwhelmed by these super tidy, super clean public spaces,” he said. “You go there and you think everything is all right and good, but you feel that it actually isn’t underneath. In a visual way the public spaces seemed to be very much controlled—they were over tidy, over clean, almost too perfect.”

Milach’s knowledge of the political situation in Belarus likely added to this looming uneasiness. Sometimes referred to as the “last dictatorship in Europe,” Belarus has been ruled by Alexander Lukashenko since 1994, longer than any other European head of state. In 2012, the U.N. selected an investigator there to look into “allegations of torture, poor treatment of prisoners” and other “serious violations of human rights.” Rather than try to add to that investigation, Milach decided upon a more subversive approach to political criticism by holding a mirror of sorts to the Belarusian government’s own manufactured image of itself. His bookThe Winners, is a piece of anti-propaganda slyly disguised as propaganda, a catalogue of winners of state and local competitions supported by the Belarusian authorities including “the best of the best in contests promoting beauty or public space maintenance.”

http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2014/05/29/rafal_milach_photographs_winners_of_strange_contests_in_belarus_in_his_book.html

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PBS’ Freedom Summer: A Look at Mississippi in 1964

It may not entertain like Orange is the New Black or Fargo. It may not contain the thought-provoking humor of Louie, or the hilarity of Veep, but it’s worth watching. As Ice Cube said in Higher Learning, “Feed your brain, fool.”

 

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